The trend of professional players entering the wine game is increasing.
Here are some of their stories.
By Tamara Belgard Turner
Athletes regularly translate their sports careers into successful lifestyle brands, often in fashion and beauty products. In the early 2000s, NFL all-stars like Mike Ditka, Terry Hoage, Drew Bledsoe, and Dan Marino turned to wine after retiring from the sport. Recently, there has been a growing trend of NBA players getting into the wine game, but instead of treating their ventures as vanity projects, they’re using their platforms to create legacy and promote diversity in the wine industry. Some might call them trailblazers.
Build a legacy
Former NBA champion and Chosen Family Wines partner Channing Frye hopes to change the perception of athletes and celebrities who create wine brands as purely vanity projects. He recognizes important work to be done and realizes those goals through wine. He wants to shape the industry by diversifying the next generation of winemakers while improving wine quality. He says, “For athletes – and for Black Americans – we can raise awareness of the opportunities the wine industry offers for all people.”
Working in the wine industry challenges Frye to feel uncomfortable in an area in which he considers himself a newcomer. roast meat also believes in creating something for future generations. “IIt’s an investment of time, work and love, so obviously I want it to work,” he says. “I want my kids and my kids’ kids to be able to say, ‘Look what my dad started. We built that.” I hope we will continue this tradition to ensure this for a wide range of nationalities and ethnic groups [wine] Industry is representative of the world as we see it.”
Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers and also a Chosen Family partner believes, “We have a unique opportunity to build a special community in the world of wine, one that is inclusive and accessible no matter where you are on your journey.”
Use the chance
New Orleans Pelicans point guard CJ McCollum discovered the wine while dining with his wife Elise at the Ringside Steakhouse in Portland, Oregon. They ordered a bottle of 2012 Walter Scott Pinot Noir and the rest, he says, was history. “As my career took me to Oregon – one of the best wine regions in the country – my passion for wine grew to the point where I wanted to be a part of this world on a larger scale,” he says. Inspired by NBA players Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, who each started their own wine brands, McCollum followed with his own wine label. McCollum legacy 91.
McCollum recognizes, “It’s about being part of a great team. We have been working with the Adelsheim winery vintner Gina Hennen from the very beginning. I am grateful for Gina’s skills as a winemaker and for her mentorship, which helps me refine my own wine preferences and learn the ins and outs of the wine industry.”
McCollum admits that making wine wasn’t easy, but he wasn’t afraid to ask questions. “You quickly find out what you don’t know and confront those who do.” He applies his basketball philosophy to his wine label. “You’ll probably miss more shots than you take, but you can make the ones you shoot count.”
McCollum acknowledges his luck that his day job gives him the opportunity to spend money on this project. He says: “I am passionate about creating a legacy to honor the people, communities, places and causes that mean the most to me. It’s also important to contribute to the spirit of inclusivity in the wine industry, especially as it relates to people of color.”
He adds, “Kids, students and college athletes look at me and think, ‘If CJ can do this, maybe I can too!’”
look into the future
What’s the next slam dunk for these basketball stars? As part of their long-term vision, McCollum and his wife have purchased 318 acres of vineyards in the Willamette Valley and will soon be announcing plans to develop the land. Chosen Family continue to collaborate with emerging winemakers from Lingua Franca, Hazelfern Cellars, L’Angolo Estate and Salty Goats as they build a portfolio of wines with partners who share their passion and vision.
For these players, their commitment to creating opportunity in the industry is paramount, but their love of great wine is central.
Tamara Belgard Turner
Tamara Belgard is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon with extensive experience as a writer for a variety of news, travel and lifestyle publications. When not chasing stories, you might stumble across Tamara roaming winelands, foraging for mushrooms, hiking her favorite trails, exploring new restaurants, perusing her local farmers market, flipping through cookbooks, or searching for hidden gems on the shelves of her favorite wine shops.